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Battling a staff shortage and hiring crisis, Chief Danielle Outlaw wants to boost recruiting

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Chief Danielle Outlaw is moving to relax educational requirements for new recruits to battle a hiring crisis, while also hiring a marketing firm to combat bad p.r. 'Basically, the PPB is calling for cover,' she wrote in a recent email obtained by the Portland Tribune.Neck and face tattoos, facial hair or education of only a GED will no longer block would-be cops from joining the Portland Police Bureau.

The Portland Police's difficulties in hiring have gotten so bad that Chief Danielle Outlaw is removing the city's long-standing requirement that new recruits must have either two years of military or law enforcement experience or a two-year college associate's degree.

"To remain competitive, PPB will place emphasis on transferable skills, relevant life experience, and bureau-specific standards that can lead to qualified individuals," Outlaw wrote in an email to officers on Friday, June 14. "There will always be recruitment challenges, but I am confident by broadening our candidate options, it will expose the PPB in ways that will make us stronger."

Previously, people with a GED could become Portland police, but they would have to have spent two years either in the military, as a cop elsewhere, or as a probation or corrections officer.

Outlaw is proposing the Portland-only standards be dropped in order to better compete for new recruits. Other agencies in Oregon require only a high school degree or a GED degree, which is considered equivalent to high school.

The move to relax educational requirements, which was first reported by the Portland Tribune, has sparked grumbling among some longtime Portland officers. After the Tribune published an article, the police bureau issued a press release with a prepared statement by Outlaw.

"These changes to policies were made after careful review of our hiring process in the attempt to identify potential barriers to entry," said Chief Danielle Outlaw. "We will revisit the effectiveness of these changes after two years to determine if our hiring numbers have increased."

The release added that "the Bureau will continue to provide incentive pay to officers who pursue higher education and earn degrees. PPB will also continue to develop training and learning opportunities to ensure all officers receive necessary education and tools to develop and advance."

But critics of lowering educational standards say it will reduce the life-experience and worldliness of new cops.

"The job is getting more complicated, more difficult," said T.J. Browning, a longime citizen activist who used to sit on the advisory council to the police civilian oversight office. "We need more training, not less ... Think of those other poor police officers who work so hard out there — now they have to worry about this? I know you don't learn everything in college, but it certainly forces you into more experiential opportunities than a G.E.D."

Zakir Khan of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Oregon chapter, pointed out that some research has indicated police use force less often when they have more education.

The ban on facial tattoos and facial hair dates back to April 2000, when Portland's then-new chief, Mark Kroeker instituted a military-style grooming policy that sparked loud criticism from his own officers. He also pushed for lowering Portland's educational requirements from a four-year degree to two years.

In 2007, then-chief Rosie Sizer proposed eliminating the two-year degree requirement only to be met with criticism, including from the then-president of the Portland Police Association, Robert King.

"Any time you step away from education as a criteria, you put the organizational effectiveness at risk," King told The Oregonian/Oregonlive at the time, adding that research showed a correlation between professionalism and education.

King is now Mayor Ted Wheeler's liaison with the police bureau, and the Portland Police Assocation could not be reached for comment. Chief Outlaw did not respond to a request for comment. A Portland Police Bureau spokeswoman, Lt. Kristina Jones, said she was working on it and then did not respond. Instead, the bureau issued a press release nearly four hours after being contacted by the Tribune.

Despite passage of a generous police contract under Mayor Charlie Hales, hiring has not kept pace with vacancies at the Portland Police Bureau.The agency has been running 100 officers short, and bureau insiders say police response time have suffered. The shortage is expected to worsen by August 2020, when a large number of retirements are expected to hit.

Outlaw, in her letter, also said the bureau will hire an outside marketing firm to assist the bureau. Outlaw likened it to an officer calling for backup, saying, "Basically, the PPB is calling for cover."

The full text of the letter follows:

Good Afternoon,

As we continue to talk about the difficulties in hiring police officers and the projection of retirements in the coming years, it is time to step back and take a breath. From this perspective, we have evaluated all processes around recruitment, including the application process.

Beginning July 1st, PPB will match with Oregon state law enforcement hiring standards. This will affect our Portland-specific education requirement. State of Oregon requires a high school diploma or GED to be hired as a police officer. PPB will follow this model moving forward. The bureau will continue to honor officers who pursue higher education and earn degrees—with incentive pay. We will also continue to develop training and learning opportunities to ensure all officers receive necessary education and tools to develop and advance. Many Washington, California, and surrounding Portland metro area law enforcement agencies have the same basic qualifications. To remain competitive, PPB will place emphasis on transferable skills, relevant life experience, and bureau-specific standards that can lead to qualified individuals.

We will also match the State guidelines in who is required to take the Frontline Test through the National Testing Network (NTN). We currently ask all applicants to take this test; moving forward candidates with bachelor's degrees and lateral experience will not be required to take the exam and all others will be required to pass the test within 60 days of being placed on the eligible list.

Another change will be in the absolute exclusion of neck/facial tattoos and/or facial hair. We will move to an exceptions process for approval of existing tattoos and facial hair must allow for a mask to fit appropriately over the face for protection.

It is also important we take a moment and think about retention, how PPB can offer supportive life balance strategies through part-time employment opportunities for sworn and non-sworn employees. We are still working out some of the details of this offering and more details will follow in the coming weeks.

I know we have been through some difficult times, and I understand the frustrations expressed. The work of a police officer is difficult, and can be extremely challenging in our city. I value each one of you and the hard work you do every single day. I know you all do a lot of unseen little things that make big differences in the lives of many. Keep doing it. There will always be recruitment challenges, but I am confident by broadening our candidate options, it will expose the PPB in ways that will make us stronger.

We have also begun work with a marketing firm to increase police presence on a different level. In an effort to tell our own story, put forth a message of service and inclusivity, and draw interest from potential candidates, we are glad to have the help on this one. Basically, the PPB is calling for cover.

Thank you for the work you do.

Chief Outlaw

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